The road to Alice Springs and the West and East MacDonnell Ranges…

We continued east along the Lasseter Highway following a scenery of low sand ridges, spinifex bushes, desert oaks, and red earth.

This highway was named after Lewis Hubert (Harold Bell) Lasseter, who claimed to have discovered a fabulously rich gold reef (Lasseter’s Reef) west of Kata Tjuta.

It was an easy drive on the sealed road. We passed Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse that on our last trip offered great camping facilities, the usual roadhouse services and sold artworks produced by artists of the community – this time there wasn’t a sole to be seen. There were signs in the amenities at Curtin Springs to advise travellers that Mt Ebenezer had shut its doors and even though signage indicated it was still functioning, it was definitely all closed up as we drove by… park, cafe and petrol!

56- kilometres on we finally reached the crossroads of the Stuart and Lasseter Highway and Erldunda Roadhouse, one of the newer centres of the Northern Territory that was established to service travellers to and from Uluru.

This very popular stop had a caravan park, cafe, tavern, service station and was crowded with all manner of tourist buses, camper vans, 4WDs, cars and people when we arrived!

 

It was a great campground with clean amenities, lovely grassed sites,  sunset viewing, aunknown few animals, a couple of tall, majestic birds (emus), a chook by the name of Cluck Norris that lives in the kangaroo enclosure and thinks he’s a kangaroo, 2 big Aussie icons – a big concrete echidna and a big lizard, which I don’t think even make the ‘Aussie Big Icon’ list… and a Geocache!

The kangaroos had been rescued and raised from small joeys and seemed quite happy and friendly little roos when they joined us near the sunset viewing platform that night.

This campground was a one night stop for us while we decided in which direction we were heading – south or north!

If you decide to stay at Erldunda, the staff are very friendly and there is a variety of accommodation options – camping, powered and unpowered caravan sites, backpacker’s accommodation (very basic) and some very nice motel rooms.img_3601

Next morning we left Erldunda Roadhouse and turned north on the Stuart Highway.  We had decided to head to Alice Springs to wait out the road closure on the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks and if all else failed and the bad weather continued we would continue north to the Plenty Highway.

The Stuart Highway is a massive 2834-kilometre stretch of road that connects Darwin and Adelaide. Also known as the Explorer’s Way, it is one of the largest stretches of highway on the planet where travellers can spend weeks traversing the immense landscape… and the very first thing to get used to as we hit the black bitumen was the speed limit for the Northern Territory. Cars wizzed past us at 130- kilometres per hour!

We were constantly on the lookout for cattle, camels and kangaroos as we travelled along the unfenced highway, and every now and then a burned-out car would appear on the side of the road.

Our first stop was the Desert Oaks Rest Area located on the western side of the highway amongst the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert and of course as the name suggests -desert oaks.

This was a lovely rest area with plenty of room to spread out and search for a Geocache nearby. There was water, shade, tables, wood BBQs and toilets and overnight camping… but VERY busy!

Next was the Ernest Giles Road intersection and the turn off to Kings Canyon (Watarrka). This was the 4WD road we were contemplating travelling with the German Tourists from Kings Canyon Resort until it was closed because of heavy rain and flooding!

11-kilometres in off Stuart Highway along the very corrugated road is the small but interesting Henbury Meteorite Craters.

This reserve contains 12-craters, which were formed over 4700-years ago by fragments of the Henbury Meteorite. The largest crater is 180-metres wide and 15-metres deep and the meteor that caused this mighty hole weighed several tons and disintegrated before impact.

It was here we were caught in a dust storm on our last visit. As we wandered the rim of the craters we noticed a redish cloud building in the distance and moving our way… then before we knew it the sky was rapidly blanketed with red and orange sand clouds and we were engulfed in an eerie darkness.

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Our arms and legs were sand blasted as a wind swirled around us and after covering our faces with handkerchiefs we hastily made a dash to the car.

The calmness soon turned to a whistling wind blowing around 30-35 knots and the red sand constantly obscured our vision making it hard going as we carefully manouvered our car over the corrugations back to the highway. There was sand everywhere… red Aussie outback sand!

This massive sand storm had turned day into night and it was certainly a welcome relief to reach Alice Springs. We were later to learn the gale force winds had carried red sand from inland Australia as far afield as Sydney and Melbourne with Sydney being blanketed in red sand for many days.

Continuing on we came to the Finke River where just after the bridge was another rest area located on the eastern side of the highway… and another popular stop for people driving the highway.

The rest area was a superb location right next to the mighty Finke River and worthy of a break to check out the dry river systems of Central Australia (the Finke River only flows a couple of times each year)! There was a toilet, water, a couple of picnic tables and it was again packed full of campers, caravans and trailers. There is only a 24 hour limit here so no long-term camping… and yes, there is another hidden Geocache!

Considering the amount of sunshine in this part of the country it makes sense that every second year it hosts the World Solar Challenge where vehicles race along this highway using only the power of the sun’s rays – and the Stuart Highway seemed an ideal road for this race being extremely flat, straight and with virtually no corners… and we were lucky enough to pass a few heading in the other direction as we travelled along!

For over 30-years, the ‘Bridgestone World Solar Challenge‘ has welcomed the greatest minds from around the world to Australia to travel the outback and push the limits of a vehicle powered solely by the energy of the sun.

It took us a while to work out what was happening until we came across the support team and a car pulled to the side of the highway. Apparently teams travel as far as they can until 5:00pm in the afternoon then just make camp where-ever they end up. We were guessing this one had ran out of power.

We had just passed a big road train and could only imagine the issues they would have to contend with on this highway, especially the wash from a monster trucks that could easily destabilise them and send them all over the road. Caravans and slower vehicles wouldn’t help much either and neither would the native wildlife! 

As we continued on, the highway widened for the designated emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service

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… then we came to the Cannonball Run Memorial.

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This roadside rest area is situated in barren, open country with no shade but has a very interesting story.

In 1994, during a car race event called ‘The Cannonball Run’, a Ferrari F40 crashed into this checkpoint, killing its Japanese driving team and 2-track officials. Needless to say, there were no further Cannonball Runs in the Northern Territory after this.

It seems the Stuart Highway is the highway for unusual car events. In 1994 the first and only Cannonball Run in Australia ran from Darwin to Yulara and back again and now it plays host to the World Solar Challenge.

Next was the famous Stuarts Well Roadhouse. There was lots to see on this stretch of road and even if you don’t stop at any other roadhouse do stop at Stuarts Well Roadhouse or ‘Jims Place‘ as it is known by the locals.

Roughly halfway along this stretch of the Stuart Highway, this roadhouse was the home of ‘Dinky the singing Dingo‘ – an outback legend in his own right. Dinky would jump up on the piano, bang on the keys and then started howling… his performance was very clever and quite hilarious .. and made Jim’s Place world-famous!

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Dinky on our first trip through the Red Centre in 2009

Sadly, Dinky passed away in May 2014, but his memory lives on in photos and the hearts of all who met him. RIP Dinky. His owner, Jim Cotterill who is also an outback legend has moved to Alice Springs to live!

Our visit to this roadhouse was a true outback experience where we got to meet a few unique outback characters and browse through the history of tourism in Central Australia. Jim’s parents actually cut the first road to Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park.

If you are thinking of a night stop at Stuarts Well Roadhouse, you’ll find a caravan park, restaurant, pool, toilets, more emus and kangaroos and for those with ‘Optus’ – yes there is cover!

The Outback Camel Farm is  right next door and provides history of camels in Central Australia as well as camel rides!

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It was the camels, and the camel drivers or cameleers, that opened up the Australian Outback with the original outback camel trains. These were operated by immigrants from Pathan tribes in the North West frontier of the then British India and Pakistan who were originally misnamed ‘Afghan’ Cameleers.

Of course progress and development took its course and by the 1920s the camels’ working days were numbered with roads, railway lines and airstrips being built.

Eventually the camels couldn’t compete and were simply let go to live happily ever after in the desert… and have now multiplied, and multiplied, and keep multiplying, so consequently kangaroos weren’t the only animals we saw ‘sleeping’ on the side of the road… although there were some wild camels just off the road, still very much alive.

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We continued on along the highway pulling over at the turnoff to Rainbow Valley.

Rainbow Valley is well worth the 20-kilometre drive along the unsealed road where there is a great camping area with picnic tables, gas BBQs, long drop toilets, a couple of interesting walks, a fabulous rock formation and LOTS of Wicked vans… there is also a Geocache!

The main features of the Rainbow Valley area are the scenic sandstone bluffs and cliffs -free standing cliffs that form part of the James Range that are particularly attractive in the early morning and late afternoon when the rainbow-like rock bands are highlighted.

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I’ve spoken a lot about Geocaching in this blog and for those who are not sure what I am talking about or haven’t read my previous blogs ‘Geocaching‘ is a treasure hunting game where you use GPS to hide and seek containers. It’s very addictive, you can use it ‘offline’… and it beats playing ‘I Spy’ and ‘Guess the number plate’ all the time!

A cache or geocache is a hidden container housing a logbook, pen or pencil to record details and trinkets for people to exchange!

We registered on the geocaching website – www.geocaching.com and bought a pack of Australian CardsIMG_3259 – a card of a different place in Australia would be my contribution when I found a cache (if I could fit one in the container that is), along with my blog address!

Some containers were only the size of a Kodak film container and others were metal army boxes hidden in the most unusual and sometimes the hardest of places to find.

They are all over the world so download the ‘Geocaching’ App and your adventure begins…. go offline and HAVE SOME FUN!!

We were only 65-kilometres south of Alice Springs when we took a side trip to Owen Springs Reserve and one of the Red Centre’s best-kept secrets with a 50-kilometre long 4WD track that winds through Owen Springs Reserve and takes you back to Alice Springs via Larapinta Drive.

If you’ve got time, check out this reserve, there’s free camping, lots of history, beautiful birds, Aboriginal rock art sites… and a Geocache hidden halfway along the 4WD track.

If your heading along the highway, just 60-kilometres south of Alice Springs is Mt Polhill Roadside Rest Area, another roadside stop where you can camp for free for up to 24 hours. It offers a FREE wi-fi hotspot, shelter, some picnic tables, a toilet, a water tank and some amazing sunrise views of the Waterhouse Range… and be sure and hunt for the Geocache just across the road.

It had been a picturesque and very interesting drive from Erldunda Roadhouse and finally in the distance the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges came into view where Alice Springs was nestled.

The township of Alice Springs obtained its name from the waterhole at the historic Telegraph Station, which was also well worth a visit and marks the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs.

It was built near what was thought to be a permanent waterhole in the Todd River and was optimistically named Alice Springs after the wife of the former Postmaster General of South Australia, Sir Charles Todd just as the Todd River was named after Sir Charles himself.

As we neared, the Alice rocks rose out of the earth in great ranges and we knew we were back to civilization when my phone started beeping with messages. Telstra reception had ceased to exist as we headed north of Erldunda!

We grabbed a quick photo opportunity with the Alice Springs sign and then made our way into town and the BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park where we had stayed on our last trip. Set in beautiful surrounds, it is a lovely park and a great base close to town and for exploring the surrounding area. The staff are really friendly and they have the best pancake breakfast held every Sunday morning all year round… not to be missed!

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It was getting late when we arrived but there was still enough daylight for a quick tour of ‘The Alice’ on our bikes… so after setting up camp we headed off to explore.

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Alice is surprisingly bigger than you think  with a population of around 2600 people and it was easy to forget we were really in the middle of the desert.alice5

Set on the banks of the famous and mostly very dry Todd River it is the heart of Central Australia and is surrounded by incredible gorges, boundless desert landscapes, remote Aboriginal communities and an amazing pioneering history…. and symbolises the hardy outback of the Northern Territory’s Red Centre.

It sits among the magnificence of the MacDonnell Ranges and is home to the Flying Doctor Base, the first School of the Air, inaccessible Pine Gap, and the famous ‘Henley on Todd Regatta‘ – the  world’s only waterless regatta and boating contest with a difference where boats don’t have bottoms! images-1

The people of Alice certainly like to remind the rest of us of their uniqueness in a unique way so make sure you watch this youtube clip –  Henley on Todd Regatta.  It’s not always dry though and when the river flooded in 1974 the regatta had to be abandoned because there was too much water.

Alice appeared to be quite a prosperous town but we were told that the once booming tourist industry was now a shadow of its former self, something we found hard to believe as we remembered the convoys of grey nomads we had passed in waves or we travelled behind on the highway…. with nowhere to go but through the town.

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We had passed caravans and motor homes of every shape and size and lots of ‘Wicked campers’ and they were not only on the highway coming into Alice but the caravan park was full.

This little town seemed like it could be any suburb or town in the populated parts of Australia but the hardest feature for us to ignore was the endless numbers of destitute Aboriginals just wandering about – many extremely unkempt.

Our first impression was of an area of a high crime rate as we had been advised at the park to stay indoors after dark and make sure everything was locked up!

Most homes and all businesses had serious shutters and bars on windows and doors and there was a heavy police presence in most areas of the business centre of town especially outside the shops that sold alcohol… and at the bottle shop near the caravan park we had to show proof of identify when buying alcohol (tourist and travellers guide to the NT), which is law in the Northern TerritoryTodd-Mall2-870x580.jpg

Next day we woke to a beautiful morning after another night of electrical storms and strong winds and decided to head off on our bikes to explore some more and I have to say our first glimpse of Alice in the early morning light was heart wrenching and extremely unsettling.

We passed many people of no fixed abode. On street corners or congregated in parks were entire families sitting around waiting for the day to go by when it had only just begun… they wandered streets in groups and slept outside the shopping centre, on ANZAC Hill and in the dry Todd Riverimages-4

To see folk camped on the sandy bed of the river sleeping on old mattresses or up against the odd tree only to be moved on by the police in the early morning was so sad. They seemed to be living in ‘no man’s land’, not belonging to their own people or belonging to the white people… a problem only exasperated as the population increased significantly and constantly when more people drifted in from the outlying reserves.

The Arrernte Aboriginal people have made their home here in the Central Australian desert in and around Alice Springs, (known as Mparntwe to the Aboriginal people) for more than 50,000 years and many still live in communities outside the town where their country is rich with mountain ranges, waterholes, and gorges.

Over the next couple of days as we waited for the Oodndatta and Birdsville Tracks to open we visited the West and East MacDonnell Ranges , rode our bikes and frequented the camp kitchen where we met other travellers who were happy to share their journeys. Some had crossed the Simpson Desert, some were heading to the Tanami Track and others were heading south after a winter in the warmer climate.

Since the very beginning of our journey we had spent many happy hours pawing over maps and picking others brains for information on everything from where to find cheap fuel, free camps, good camp grounds or caravan parks and what road to take and what not to miss. This kind of information was priceless to us while travelling. Not only did it give us a crystal ball insight into the journey ahead but also an opportunity to meet and talk to people.

Alice is the 5th and biggest control stop for the ‘Solar Challenge Cars‘ along the route and marks the halfway point between Darwin and Adelaide, so consequently a few teams had set up camp at the caravan park taking up a number of camping spots to park their cars and trucks.

The days had alternated between beautiful blue skies to very overcast with heavy downpours over the past few weeks and the threatening grey skies overhead made the evening maintenance for teams very difficult, given the workings of these cars are high-voltage and potentially dangerous if exposed to water.

It was amazing the trouble these teams went to to make it down the Stuart Highway. Tweaking and tuning their vehicles throughout the night, the maintenance crews worked under tarps then stored their cars in trucks to protect them from the elements… but with the obvious need for sunshine it wasn’t looking good for the next day as the clouds and rain closed in around them!

It wasn’t looking good for us either and our plans for heading to the Oodndatta.

There was so much for us to explore around Alice Springs.

First up was another tour of the town and it appeared the people of Alice were quite used to grown-ups looking in, around, on top of and under things as no one took any notice of us when we –  you guessed it… searched for more Geocaches!

 ANZAC Hill overlooks the town and is a monument to all those who have served in defence of their country during all wars in which Australia participated. 

Alice became an important location for the Northern defence of Australia during World War II with its importance growing when it was established that coastal shipments to Darwin were no longer safe.

With such a large American influence in the town after the war a number of hidden locations were set up in and around Alice Springs to monitor world events.

One of these was a Seismic Vault dug into a mound which held instruments such as seismographs and other instruments to detect the ground movements caused by possible nuclear testing around the globe.

The 1960’s saw the establishment of the Joint Defence Space Research Facility, or as its locally known ‘Pine Gap‘, a facility we could forget about seeing up close, as it is a prohibited area.

From the lookout at ANZAC Hill we had panoramic views of the beautiful West MacDonnell Ranges in the distance, and the township of Alice  below… an oasis in the middle of the desert, just far more green and lush than I ever imagined.

Next we took a trip to the aforementioned Telegraph Station where we declined a tour, opting for our own self guided tour of the original site and the surrounding countryside.

The Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve was established in 1871 and marks the original site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs.  It was set up to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide, also linking an underwater cable network to London and thus creating the first real communication between Australia and England.

3-kilometres north of the town centre is the first ‘School of the Air‘ that started in 1951 and was the first school of its type in Australia that broadcast lessons to children over an area of 1.3 million sq kilometres. While transmissions were originally all done over high-frequency radio, satellite broadband internet and web-cams now mean students can study in a virtual classroom.

Next was a visit to the ‘John Flynn Memorial Historical Reserve’, located 7-kilometres west of Alice Springs, and the resting place for the ashes of the Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Flying Doctor Service in 1928.

His vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for the isolated communities of inland Australia and by using air links and radio this service would provided medical aid to people living, working and travelling in the outback.

His memorial sits on a low hill at the foot of the MacDonnell Ranges and his plaque expresses a lifetime of achievements. In just a few lines it reads…

‘His vision encompassed the continent. He established the Australian Inland Mission and founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He brought to lonely places a spiritual ministry and spread a mantle of safety over them by medicine and the radio.’

The Flying Doctor Service in Alice is well worth a visit. Guided tours leave every half-hour with the last at 4:00pm and the state-of-the-art facilities include a hologram of Reverend John Flynn and a look at the operational control room, as well as some ancient medical gear and a once used flight simulator. The dedicated health workers of the Flying Doctor Service still provide 24-hour emergency services across an area of around 1.25 million sq kilometres.

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Near the Flying Doctor Service base in the former Alice Springs Gaol is the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame Museum – a tribute to Australia’s pioneering women.images-2

Swapping our bikes for Harry Hilux we headed to the Tjoritja – West MacDonnell National Park that stretches for 161-kilometres to the west of Alice Springs with our first stop the spectacular Simpsons Gap.unknown

This gap is one of the most prominent in the West MacDonnell Ranges and a lovely chasm in the rolling red ranges. It is also an important spiritual site to the Arrernte Aboriginal people, where several dreaming trails and stories cross.

According to the Arrernte traditional stories the desert and landscape surrounding Alice Springs was shaped by caterpillars, wild dogs, travelling boys, sisters, euros (kangaroo like creatures) and other ancestral figures.

Leaving Simpsons Gap we drove on to Standley Chasm.

Pulling into the car park, which was situated in the centre of a gully, we were surrounded with ferns, cycad palms and tall gums and with the cloud hanging low over the ranges it was so beautiful we felt we were in a rainforest, not the desert of Central Australia. The track was rough in parts but it was only a short 20 minute one-way walk so quite easy… it was also tour bus and tourist heaven and very crowded.

By the time we finished the walk the rain had set in and it was raining quite heavily so we decided to head back to Alice!

Next morning we were pleasantly surprised to see an improvement in the weather and although still a bit cloudy the sun was trying hard to break through so we decided to tackle the West MacDonnell’s again.

The final gorge on the West MacDonnell trail is Redbank Gorge, which was actually the starting point for us as we made our way back to Alice.

It sits at the base of Mt. Sonder, the best known and most photographed mountain in the West MacDonnell Ranges and it’s ‘Dreaming Story’ is connected to the Euro (small kangaroo) ancestor who travels through the area.

The ride into the gorge was along a 5-kilometres unsealed track and the walk to the gorge took us along a narrow track then along the creek bed itself.

The return walk to Mount Sonder’s summit takes anywhere up to 8-hours so we decided against that opting just to enjoy the scenery that surrounded us. This is also the starting point for walkers who choose to do the whole or parts of the Larapinta Trail starting from the west.

Redbank had a great campground called Woodland Camp, which had plenty of shade and toilets and free BBQ. It is also a popular place for swimming so the promise of a swim as we walked in quickened our pace but unfortunately the water in the gorge was not that inviting when we arrived due to lack of rain so after a few photos we headed back to the main road.

We arrived at Ormiston Gorge mid morning and pulled on our walking boots again.

Although named a gorge, Ormiston Gorge is actually a ‘pound’ or ‘a circle of mountains’ and is very popular for its swimming hole, its walks and its sheer beauty. The ‘Dreaming Story’ here involves emus and a hunter.

Leaving the car park we set off on the 7-kilometre pound walk that took us past a very inviting waterhole, through the gorge and into the huge circle of mountains then back around the surrounding rugged hills to where we had started.

The temperature had risen considerably and a refreshing swim awaited us at the waterhole but after failed attempts to coax Guy in to the icy water I decided to go solo attracting surprised looks from the onlookers on the sandy bank.

The Ochre Pits were our next stop before tackling the long, bumpy track to Serpentine Gorge .

These pits were a colourful outcrop of ochre on the banks of a sandy creek and an important place for the Aboriginals to mine ochre, which they then used for healing, paintings and ceremonial body decoration.  An information shelter at the site provides information about how, why and when the Ochre Pits were used. 

We had heard that Serpentine Gorge was mostly ignored by many visitors opting instead to focus on Ellery Creek Big Hole or Ormiston Gorge. The road into this gorge was corrugated dirt and was another place not to be missed.

Serpentine Gorge is a sacred site to Western Arrernte Aboriginal people. It’s name in Western Arrernte is Ulpma (uhlp-Mah) and the ‘Dreaming Story’ for this place is associated with an Eaglehawk ancestor, with the full story only be told to initiated Aboriginal men.

The walk into the gorge was an easy stroll along the creek bed to a small waterhole. which had significant cultural and environmental significance preventing us from swimming.

After climbing to the lookout above the cliffs we were greeted with breathtaking views and although it was a very steep and rocky climb that seemed to go on forever, the sweeping views over the narrow winding gorge and the many waterholes made it worth the trek.

A further 8 kilometres west of Serpentine Gorge is Serpentine Chalet Bush Camping Area, the site of an important part of central Australian tourism history.

After a full day of trekking the ranges we were both chasmed and gorged to our max and very hot and tired so a dip in Ellery Creek Big Hole was definitely on the agenda where again I was the only one swimming in the icy water.

That evening, hungry and tired we rustled up a meal then spent some time chatting to other campers before finally turning in. It was certainly a hard day at the office and our nice comfortable bed was very inviting.

Next morning we set off east along the Ross Highway to the East MacDonnell Ranges and Emily and Jessie Gap.

These small Gaps in the Heavitree Range are the first features we came to on our trip into the East MacDonnell’s and an important spiritual site to the Eastern Arrernte Aboriginal people where their culture has a long history in the region.

There was no one else around and no vehicles in sight.images.jpeg We appeared to be the only adventurous tourists wandering off the beaten track and the silence was total as we crossed the sandy creek bed towards the towering rocks that formed the walls of the Gap.

Anthwerrke – Emily Gap is the sacred home of the three ancestral beings that form the ‘Caterpillar Dreaming’ – Yeperenye, Ntyarlke and Utnjerrengatye.

These  amazing rock paintings depicted the ‘Caterpillar Dreaming‘, each different with sharply outlined horizontal lines that ran parallel to each other with several dots added and  each drawn with precision.

Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve was an easy stopover on our way to  Trephina Gorge and easily reached along the sealed road.

We were hoping for a swim at Trephina Gorge but the river beds and waterholes were as dry as a bone, just dirt clearings and dust bowls with no water and no where to cool off. The locals call the rivers out here ‘upside down rivers’ because the water flows just below the surface.

We walked along the dry riverbed meandering along walks that took us around and above the gorge and even though the sand was hot underfoot it was well worth the effort.

Trees lined the dry river bed including a 300-year old Ghost Gum while others grew precariously from the banks above us, all with rather impressive root systems that reached metres down through the rocks to water. Only the very toughest plants and animals could survive out here and the giant gums that surrounded us were a lasting reminder.

For those that want to spend a few days in the East MacDonnelll Ranges there are some great camping areas but we had only decided on a day trip, as we were keen to continue south now the weather had improved.images images

Back in the car we continued to the end of the road to Ross River where we were greeted by some rather friendly horses. The homestead nearby offered horse and camel riding but it didn’t really interest us. Instead we headed to N’Dhala Gorge  a significant site where ancient manhood and initiation ceremonies took place.

Only accessible by 4WD and this shady gorge was home to a wide range of rock carvings and paintings.

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We had also entered gold and gem country. The Arltunga Historical Reserve and the Arltunga Bush Hotel were a lasting reminder of the Territory’s gold rush history in this area and again a reminder of the hardship and isolation the miners endured with only deep shafts cut into solid rock, old mining equipment and two cemeteries left to see.

When gold was discovered in a dry creek bed at Paddy’s Rockhole east of Alice Springs in 1887, the resulting gold rush attracted enough people to establish Arltunga, which at the peak of the boom supported up to 300 people. Arltunga was Central Australia’s first township.

We were finding we were increasingly drawn to these ranges with scenery so special that photos could not do them justice and the best thing about the East MacDonnell Ranges was the peace and quiet.

It wasn’t busy like the West MacDonnell Ranges and we were lucky if we passed a handful of cars during the time we visited. We had been told most tourists skip these ranges and just do the West MacDonnell’s but we couldn’t travel this far and not venture into both and we were so pleased we did as they both had lots to offer.

As we turned back on to the Stuart Highway we headed south for Alice. Just north was the turn off to the  Plenty Highway but instead we had decided to risk the Oodnadatta Track.

No one could tell us back at the caravan park if the Oondatta and Birdsville Tracks had opened but with a clear forecast for a few days to come we pointed Harry Hilux south and headed through Heavitree Gap then turned right at the sign which said ‘Adelaide’.

As Alice disappeared in the rear view mirror, we set course for our next big adventure.

We passed the side trips and overnight camps we had passed on the way up and it wasn’t long before we hit our first roadblock… another giant Wedge Tail Eagle sitting on top of a kangaroo carcass, smack bang in the middle of the road. He defiantly stared us down leaving it to the last minute before a loud cry and a whoosh of the wings took him to a nearby tree.

Our next camp would be the Northern Territory/South Australian Border Rest Stop.

Stayed tuned for more adventures as we head for the Oodndatta Track.

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Enjoy our travels!

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